imageZeitgeist & Headwinds: A Conservative Manifesto
[Original German: Zeitgeist und Gegenwind—Ein konservatives Manifest]
by Florian Stumfall.
Hemau, Germany: Tangrintler Medienhaus, 2011.
Hardcover, 243 pages, €25.

Florian Stumfall is a seasoned Christian German conservative—a political thinker and an intellectual. He worked for the Hanns Seidel Foundation in Munich and was active in the Christian Social Union (CSU) of Bavaria. And for twenty-five years he edited Bayernkurier, a conservative German weekly published since 1950. He currently lives in the South Tyrolean Dolomites, where he continues to write political columns.

His 2011 book, Zeitgeist & Headwinds: A Conservative Manifesto, offers an insightful and compelling survey of the history of the West, and he examines the basic conservative—and fundamentally Christian—ideas it engendered. In ten lively chapters—Cosmogony, Life, Man, Society and the State, Economy, Europe, Totalitarianism, Islam, Foreign Cultures and the Third World, as well as Art and Philosophy—the author presents a highly readable account of the twists and turns of European history, the development of Western civilization, and the importance of sound political ideas.

Starting from a realistic anthropology of man as a “flawed human being”—which, in contrast to all idealistic and utopian claims, accords with Christian theology and the ideas of such philosophers as the German Arnold Gehlen—Stumfall addresses pressing current issues and warns against new, potentially totalitarian threats to our civilizational heritage. In this he includes the left-wing environmental movement as well as the egalitarian, freedom-hating ideology underlying “political correctness.”

In the proliferation of the so-called “welfare state,” the author sees another danger: a shift in the balance between government and civil society to the detriment of individual liberties. As others have recognized as well, he says there are increasingly clear signs that the financial viability of the much-lauded “European model” will soon reach its limits. Consequently, he says, a rapid reversal of fortunes and a return to a more robust society—organized on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity and a restoration of civic virtues (partially expressed in terms of “spontaneous self-organization” as opposed to government-funded entitlement schemes)—is urgently needed.

Certain recent political developments in the European Union are of particular concern to the author. Stumfall sees the values of the rule of law, subsidiarity, and freedom all on the decline, while centralism, bureaucracy, and statism are in the ascendant. And he criticizes the increasing distance of European “elites” from average citizens, pointing to the “immunization” of the political class from the concerns of the average voter, as exemplified by the former’s dismissal of any critical or opposing views as merely “anti-European sentiment.” This, he says, contradicts the very idea of democratic discussion.

In stark contrast to prevailing dogmas, Stumfall offers realistic assessments of man and the importance of Christian moral law, the classical concept of freedom and limits on state power, the social market economy, the principle of subsidiarity, and solidarity among citizens. He points to the need for a comprehensive humanistic education in order for conservatism to have a true, spiritual foundation—an approach that “does not worship the ashes but further carries the torch.” And he remains deeply skeptical of and vigilant against worldly promises of salvation and the attempts of national governments to implement them. He concludes that present times—characterized by a growing number of regulatory mechanisms and other intrusions into the private sphere—call for a firm return to conservative politics.

The book will help inspire Europeans by offering a new sophisticated vision of conservative, Christian thinking. Stumfall’s reference to his text as “a conservative manifesto” for the twenty-first century is, indeed, justified. Given the clarity of his message, the richness of each and every sentence in the book, and the many rousing quotations he includes, his is a message worth spreading to readers across Europe.  

Mr. Trachta works as a lawyer in Vienna and is an occasional freelance writer.

This is a reprint of the original English-language version of the book review that appeared in Issue 9 of The European Conservative.